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Bowdoin College

Publication Date

Fall 2016

Program Name

Panama: Tropical Ecology, Marine Ecosystems, and Biodiversity Conservation


Almirante Bay is a lagoonal body of water off the western Caribbean coast of Panama. The islands within the bay are popular tourist destinations, drawing visitors from around the world to explore beaches and coral reefs. However, the reefs in Almirante Bay are continually exposed to both natural and anthropogenic stressors, such as temperature inversions, boat pollution, sedimentation from dredging, and chemical runoff from coastal banana plantations. Because the economy of the area is heavily dependent on tourism, this creates an interesting dynamic in that the main source of income (tourism) could be detrimental to a main attraction of the area (coral reefs). In order to grasp this dynamic as well as to determine the condition of coral reefs in Almirante Bay, three reefs (Hospital Point, Coral Cay, and Piña Cay) were studied and twenty people were interviewed. Using a 1x1 m quadrat with crosshairs, a total of 135 m2 was studied across the three sites, which varied in proximity to the heavily trafficked Colon Island as well as in level of use by tourists. Ten local people and ten tourists participated in unstructured interviews in order to gauge general perceptions and knowledge of coral reefs between the two groups. The study found that live hard coral cover was significantly higher at a slightly impacted site than it was at a moderately impacted, heavily trafficked site. While no statistical significance was found regarding the differences in dead coral cover between the sites, the location closest to Colon Island featured diseased massive starlet coral (Siderastrea siderea) as well as the largest percentage of dead coral cover among the three sites. Interviews with locals and tourists showed that 60% of respondents believed corals in Almirante Bay to be in poor condition for various reasons such as boat traffic and trash deposition, while just 50% of respondents were able to correctly identify live versus dead hard coral in photographs. In order to effectively plan for the future of the region—both environmental and touristic—further research should involve long-term monitoring of numerous coral reefs in the bay as well as an increased number of interviews to evaluate the ever-changing levels of public understanding.


Civic and Community Engagement | Community-Based Research | Environmental Health | Laboratory and Basic Science Research | Latin American Studies | Life Sciences | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


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